Part 2 – The Capabilities
In the first part of “Decoding Rafale” we addressed the controversy of the Rafale deal and projected the findings based on data available on the public domain. Moving on in the series, in this second part we’ll discuss a bit about the capabilities of the aircraft and try to figure out what the fuss is all about. Is this really an extraordinarily aircraft or is it our media which has over-glamourised it.
What is it exactly?
The Rafale is a French 4.5 generation, twin-engine, delta wing, multirole fighter aircraft designed and built by Dassault Aviation. It can undertake various roles like air superiority, aerial reconnaissance, ground attack, deep strike, anti-ship strike and nuclear deterrence missions. Many of these missions can be undertaken in a single flight & hence the Rafale is also called the “Omnirole” fighter.
The first 5 Rafales are already serving in the IAF as of today from No. 17 squadron “Golden Arrows” in Ambala. In the coming few weeks, IAF is going to receive a set of 4-5 more aircraft and they will be positioned in No. 101 “Falcons” squadron in Hasimara, WB.
What makes it so special?
Rafale is a very potent platform. It is a combat proven system, has operated in Libya, Afghanistan, Mali, Iraq and Syria with zero safety related incidents. There are few systems which are unique to the Rafale:
SPECTRA: Rafale is equipped with a full-fledged elaborate electronic warfare suite called SPECTRA (Self-Protection Equipment Countering Threats to Rafale Aircraft). The system incorporates radar warning receiver, laser warning and missile approach warning for threat detection plus a phased array radar jammer and a decoy dispenser for threat countering. The SPECTRA is the most advanced electronic warfare suite currently in operation & costs as much as 30% of the aircraft cost. Thus, Rafale can operate in a high electronic jamming environment where the enemy radars are in a constant lookout for fighters.
Stealth: SPECTRA possess a feature called “Active Cancellation” which works by detecting a radar signal and generating a radiation field with the same amplitude and frequency but the opposite phase. This gives Rafale a considerable amount of stealth characteristics as it can be used to suppress radar signals. Also the Rafale has a LPI (Low Probability of Intercept) radar, which denies any tracing of Rafale’s radio waves and subsequent tracking and jamming. This capability is almost comparable to that of a 5th generation aircraft. The fuselage has serrated edges, a radar absorbent coating & S-type intake ducts which shields the engine compressor blades. Combining all this the radar cross section of the aircraft is 0.5-1.0 m2.
Radar and other Sensors: Rafale has Thales RBE2-AA AESA radar which can hop on different frequencies and hence is very difficult to jam, still providing very good resolution. Rafale has advanced sensor fusion giving an integrated view of the battlefield and airspace using various sensors, to the pilot. Also, Rafale’s Infrared Photo Detector (IRST) can detect infrared signature at extreme long ranges and allows Rafale to detect aircraft without using its radar and maintaining stealth. IRST also allows Rafale to fire MICA IR at BVR ranges and is jam proof. Rafale has the distinction of being the only fighter aircraft in the world to possess a Targeting Pod (TALIOS Multifunctional Targeting Pod) which provides Colour Imagery.
Air to Air Armament: Rafale are equipped with unarguably the Best Beyond Visual Range Air to Air Missile (BVRAAM) of the world, the Meteor Missile. It has a range of over hundred 100 km but what makes it different is the No Escape Zone (NEZ) which is 60 km, that means if fired within 60 km of the target the missile will hit the target for sure. Usually the NEZ for contemporary missiles is of 20–25 km only. Normally from a longer range the hit probability of single/dual pulse rocket motors based BVR missiles is 30–40%, in case of Meteor Missile this goes to as high as 60% thanks to its solid-fuel ramjet motor. A two-way datalink enables the launch aircraft to provide mid-course target updates or re-targeting & thus a different Rafale can guide the missile while the launch aircraft evades away.
Air to Ground Armament: The aircraft comes with SCALPE-EG stealth cruise missile with a standoff range of 560 km which is far greater than any missile in the current IAF inventory. For shorter ranges the Rafale uses the HAMMER which is a bomb converted missile & can be used to hit target upto 50-60 km with pinpoint accuracy.
Payload Capability: At 9.5 tons, the Rafale carries a larger payload than the Su-30MKI whilst being a smaller aircraft.
Availability: Though this is not a KPI for the capability of the aircraft but still requires a special mention. According to the IAF’s deal with Dassault, the company is responsible for maintenance & support of the aircraft in such a way that it is their responsibility to make at least 75% of the fleet available for flying at any given point of time for the first 5 years of their service. In comparison, only 60% of the entire Su-30MKI fleet is ready for operations at any time.
Are Indian Rafale aircraft different?
No, but yes. No, because the basic airframe is same as the Rafale F3+ version but there are some very significant enhancements done to the Rafale to meet the requirements of the IAF. These are called ISE (India specific enhancements) & there are 13 of them:
- Integration of IRNSS (Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System) in Rafale to make use of Indian satellite system.
- Engine modification for lifetime operation in the Indian tropical & subtropical conditions.
- Addition of Doppler Weather Radar in the nose cone.
- Extra air filter in the oxygen generator for India air conditions.
- Israeli SPICE missile integration through Link 16.
- Indian ASTRA missile integration scope in future.
- Integration of G4 Lightening pod which is a widely used pod in IAF.
- Enhancement in SPECTRA electronic warfare system & updation of threat library as per Indian conditions.
- Integration of X-Guard towed decoy system by Israeli company “Rafael”.
- Adaptation of advanced helmet mounted display by Elbit.
- Addition of 3 axis acceleration sensor.
- Addition of terrain avoidance warning system or ground proximity warning system.
- Addition of quad pack ejectors for Directed Energy Weapons (DEW).
The cost of these modifications/enhancements for a single Rafale jet is around INR 350 Crore (which is more than the price of one LCA Tejas aircraft).
This article has stretched too long (blame Dassault for making such a capable aircraft). In the next & final part we’ll see how the future looks like for Rafale & answer a very crucial question, does the cost justify the needs?